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David Joseph Bohm - biography

David Joseph Bohm (20 December 1917 – 27 October 1992) was an American-born British quantum physicist who made contributions in the fields of theoretical physics, philosophy and neuropsychology, and to the Manhattan Project.

Youth and college

Bohm was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to a Hungarian Jewish immigrant father and a Lithuanian Jewish mother. He was raised mainly by his father, a furniture store owner and assistant of the local rabbi. Bohm attended Pennsylvania State College (now The Pennsylvania State University), graduating in 1939, and then headed west to the California Institute of Technology for a year, and then transferred to the theoretical physics group under Robert Oppenheimer at the University of California, Berkeley, where he eventually obtained his doctorate degree.

Bohm lived in the same neighborhood as some of Oppenheimer's other graduate students (Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz, Joseph Weinberg, and Max Friedman) and with them became increasingly involved not only with physics, but with radical politics. Bohm gravitated to alternative models of society and became active in organizations like the Young Communist League, the Campus Committee to Fight Conscription, and the Committee for Peace Mobilization all later branded as Communist organizations by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover.

Work and doctorate

Manhattan Project Contributions

During World War II, the Manhattan Project mobilized much of Berkeley's physics research in the effort to produce the first atomic bomb. Though Oppenheimer had asked Bohm to work with him at Los Alamos (the top-secret laboratory established in 1942 to design the bomb), the head of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves, would not approve Bohm's security clearance, after tip-offs about his politics (Bohm's friend, Joseph Weinberg, had also come under suspicion for espionage).

Bohm remained in Berkeley, teaching physics, until he completed his Ph.D. in 1943, under an unusually ironic circumstance. According to Peat (see reference below, p. 64), "the scattering calculations (of collisions of protons and deuterons) that he had completed proved useful to the Manhattan Project and were immediately classified. Without security clearance, Bohm was denied access to his own work; not only would he be barred from defending his thesis, he was not even allowed to write his own thesis in the first place!" To satisfy the university, Oppenheimer certified that Bohm had successfully completed the research. He later performed theoretical calculations for the Calutrons at the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, used to electromagnetically enrich uranium for use in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

McCarthyism leads to Bohm leaving the United States

After the war, Bohm became an assistant professor at Princeton University, where he worked closely with Albert Einstein. In May, 1949, at the beginning of the McCarthyism period, the House Un-American Activities Committee called upon Bohm to testify before it— because of his previous ties to suspected Communists. Bohm, however, pleaded the Fifth amendment right to decline to testify, and refused to give evidence against his colleagues.

In 1950, Bohm was charged for refusing to answer questions before the Committee and arrested. He was acquitted in May, 1951, but Princeton had already suspended him. After the acquittal, Bohm's colleagues sought to have his position at Princeton re-instated, and Einstein reportedly wanted Bohm to serve as his assistant. The university, however, did not renew his contract. Bohm then left for Brazil to take up a Chair in Physics at the University of São Paulo, and later was also at the Technion in Haifa, Israel, and at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Later years

Bohm continued his work in quantum physics past his retirement in 1987. His final work, the posthumously published The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory (1993), resulted from a decades-long collaboration with his colleague Basil Hiley. He also spoke to audiences across Europe and North America on the importance of dialogue as a form of sociotherapy, a concept he borrowed from London psychiatrist and practitioner of Group Analysis Patrick De Mare, and had a series of meetings with the Dalai Lama. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990.

Near the end of his life, Bohm began to experience a recurrence of depression which he had suffered at earlier times in his life. He was admitted to the Maudsley Hospital in South London on 10 May 1991. His condition worsened and it was decided that the only thing that might help him was electroconvulsive therapy. Bohm's wife consulted psychiatrist David Shainberg, Bohm's long-time friend and collaborator, who agreed that electroconvulsive treatments were probably his only option. Bohm showed marked improvement from the treatments and was released on 29 August. However, his depression returned and was treated with medication.

David Bohm died of a heart attack in Hendon, London, on 27 October 1992, aged 74. He had been traveling in a London taxi on that day; after not getting any response from the passenger in the back seat for a few seconds, the driver turned back and found that Dr. Bohm had died of a heart attack. David Bohm was widely considered one of the best quantum physicists of all time.

Article author: Uri Daigin
Article tags: Biography
The article is about these people:   David Joseph Bohm

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